Honest Injuns*: Policing Native Identity in the Wake of Rachel Dolezal

[One of the most common questions I receive from readers is how to check their lineage for Native American ancestry.

There are a few companies now that – for a pretty penny – will search your DNA for ethnic markers and give you a sort of roadmap of percentages. I’ve had friends use these companies and haven’t heard anything negative from them, so I imagine the information they provide is legit.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to figure out your genetic heritage. I fully support that.

But I wonder: For those who find they are some percent “Native American” (and let’s not forget we’re talking thousands of unique tribal nations in that vague descriptor), what will they do with that information?

In discussing Rachel Dolezal, the national conversation centers on her claim to Black identity, what she calls “the Black experience” (as if being Black, or any race, can be packaged into a singular experience). I am in full support of these discussions.

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But no one outside of Native thinkers bats an eye at her assertion that she was born in a tipi and her family hunted with bows and arrows. In fact, Dolezal’s parents, who swore up and down that Dolezal is Caucasian without a hint of Black, noted that, in fact, one or two great-grandparents were Native.

Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo) addressed this on her (fabulously educational) blog,American Indians in Children’s Literature:

“The lack of questioning of that born-in-a-tipi story, however, points to the need for children’s books and media that accurately portray our lives in the past and the present so that people don’t put forth stories like the one Dolezar did, and so that that those who hear that kind of thing question such stories.

“Dolezal’s story about living in a tipi is plausible but not probable. The power of stereotyping is in her story, and in those who accepted it, too. That is not ok. Look at the images of Native people you are giving to children in your home, in your school, and in your library. Do some weeding. Make some better choices. Contribute to a more educated citizenry.”]    Read the full article here | Righting Red

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Photograph found in author’s post in Righting Red

 

 

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